If you want to experience New Orleans when you’re in town for the International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo, you’ll want to pack two things: your appetite and your walking shoes.
From legendary restaurants to toe-tapping music venues, almost “everything is walkable” for visitors and residents alike, says Jeremy Davenport, a jazz singer and trumpeter who grew up in St. Louis, but now lives in the French Quarter. “My car essentially sits in the garage,” he says.
You’ll probably be able to do the same with your rental car, thanks to the lure of the French Quarter, the city’s streetcar line and our great list of things to do in the Big Easy, compiled from interviews with New Orleans insiders such as Davenport; Ben Jaffe, a tuba player and creative director of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band; Alison Fensterstock, music writer for NOLA’s Times-Picayune newspaper; Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson, New Orleans City Council member; and Tommy Cvitanovich, owner of Drago’s Seafood Restaurant in New Orleans and Metairie.
Since Hurricane Katrina, Cvitanovich says, “people come to New Orleans and ask, ‘What can we do for the city?’ We say, ‘Come on down and enjoy our food, our bars, our sightseeing and have a ball. Then go home and be an ambassador for New Orleans. That’s what New Orleans needs more than anything else.’”
Grab a map and head for Royal Street in the French Quarter, which is a favorite of musician Jeremy Davenport and city council member Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson. “It has art galleries, antiques and the Historic New Orleans Collection,” Clarkson says. Davenport agrees: “Royal Street never gets old.” Once you’ve hit Royal Street, take some time to stroll around the neighborhood that surrounds it. “You could spend a week in New Orleans and never leave the French Quarter,” says musician Ben Jaffe. Just don’t spend all your time on Bourbon Street. “People get caught in the black hole that is Bourbon Street, [but] no locals really hang out on Bourbon Street,” Jaffe says. “Everyone should experience it, but there’s so much more to the city than Bourbon Street; that’s only six blocks.” Want to leave the Quarter? Hop on the Canal Street streetcar for a ride to the New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park, or take the St. Charles Avenue streetcar to see the city’s famous Garden District.
New Orleans Museum of Art
1 Collins C. Diboll Circle, City Park,
If you like football, you’d better keep your show schedule clear on Monday because the New Orleans Saints are playing at home that night against the Philadelphia Eagles. Before you retire to the hotel bar or Walk-Ons sports bar, though, check out the scene near the stadium, which typically includes outrageous tailgate parties and live bands. Tommy Cvitanovich, who provides Drago’s much-loved charbroiled oysters to the Saints every Friday before a game, says fans will start the festivities early Monday afternoon. “It will be a bunch of ‘Who Dat’ fun,” Cvitanovich says. “It will be a great way to spend that Monday.”
Champions Square at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome
Sugar Bowl Drive, New Orleans
1009 Poydras St., New Orleans
Rise and shine
Even locals love to start their days with beignets and coffee at Café Du Monde in the French Market. “It’s a beautiful New Orleans experience,” Jaffe says. He also likes Le Richelieu Hotel, a tucked-away spot in the French Quarter where you can dine by a saltwater pool.
If you prefer coffee without the traditional Louisiana chicory, you might like Merchant, a new coffee shop in the Central Business District that’s become one of Davenport’s favorites for breakfast or lunch. Merchant, which brews Italy’s illy coffee, also serves crepes and panini. For a hearty start, he suggests Mena’s Palace, a Greek-family-owned diner serving “a regular American breakfast” and “great eggs.” Our last pick comes from Clarkson, who loves the jazz brunch at Commander’s Palace and the atmosphere and service that go with it.
Café Du Monde
800 Decatur St., New Orleans
1403 Washington Ave., New Orleans
200 Chartres St., New Orleans
800 Common St., New Orleans
Le Richelieu Hotel
1234 Chartres St., New Orleans
Great spots to grab a drink
You can walk down the street with a beer in hand in the Big Easy, but you’ll still want to step inside and explore the city’s memorable bars and cocktails.
Where to begin? Clarkson likes the historic Monteleone Hotel, whose Carousel Bar was named one of Esquire magazine’s “Best Bars in America” and literally rotates like a merry-go-ground. Davenport suggests Sylvain, a relatively new French Quarter eatery that serves up “great bar food, great comfort food and great cocktails in a beautiful old space. It’s the perfect mix of food and drink.” Another good spot: Dominica, an Italian restaurant with innovative cocktails. He also swears by French 75, the bar inside Arnaud’s restaurant. “The bartender (Chris Hannah) is incredible,” Davenport says. “He does traditional New Orleans cocktails and his own creations. He’s an artist. If I am meeting someone for drinks, that’s where I’d go.” (French 75 also allows cigar smoking.) If you like Arnaud’s and French 75, you may want to try Galatoire’s, too. “They’re just grand French Quarter restaurants,” Cvitanovich says. “It’s fun to sit in the bar and have a glass of wine.”
If you have more time for sightseeing, think about grabbing a cab to Bacchanal, a boutique wine shop that also serves small plates in New Orleans’ artsy Bywater neighborhood. “They have a huge back courtyard where [there’s] a stage for acoustic jazz,” says newspaper music writer Alison Fensterstock, who lives nearby. “You can get a bottle of wine and a bucket of ice” and enjoy the show.
600 Poland Ave., New Orleans
Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone
214 Royal St., New Orleans
123 Barrone St., New Orleans
French 75 at Arnaud’s restaurant
813 Rue Bienville, New Orleans
209 Bourbon St., New Orleans
625 Chartres St., New Orleans
Special request dining
New Orleans may be foodie heaven, but if you have special dietary needs — allergies or food sensitivities — you may wonder where you can really eat when you’re in town. Restaurateur Cvitanovich, who knows a few things about special requests from customers, says most New Orleans eateries should be able to handle that situation. “If they’re not going to accommodate you, you should go somewhere else,” Cvitanovich says. On his extra-customer-friendly list: Brennan’s, Palace Café, any of Emeril Lagasse’s restaurants, Ralph’s on the Park in the Mid-City neighborhood, and Café Giovanni, where chef Duke LoCicero oversees the kitchen. “Duke will cook anything for you,” Cvitanovich says. If you venture beyond the Quarter, Clarkson recommends Elizabeth’s Restaurant in the Bywater neighborhood, as well as Surrey’s Café & Juice Bar, which has locations in the Garden District and Uptown.
417 Royal St., New Orleans
117 Rue Decatur St., New Orleans
601 Gallier St., New Orleans
Emeril’s New Orleans
800 Tchoupitoulas St., New Orleans
1300 St. Charles Ave., New Orleans
534 Saint Louis St., New Orleans
605 Canal St., New Orleans
Ralph’s on the Park
900 City Park Ave., New Orleans
Surrey’s Café & Juice Bar
1418 Magazine St. and 4807 Magazine St., New Orleans
If you like live music, you’re in luck. “What is so beautiful about New Orleans is that there is live music every night of the week,” says Davenport, who performs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at the Davenport Lounge in the Ritz-Carlton. Among the most well-known is Preservation Hall, which features New Orleans jazz.
How is NOLA jazz different from other styles? “There is no real short answer,” says Jaffe, whose parents started Preservation Hall as a music venue in 1961. “To understand the history of New Orleans music is to understand the history of American music,” which was influenced by Spanish, French and African traditions, among others. “The name ‘Preservation Hall’ is a little deceptive. People think we’re putting music in a can, and we’re not at all,” says Jaffe, likening playing at the Hall to cooking from traditional New Orleans recipes. “Gumbo and red beans and rice doesn’t taste ‘old-style’ to me — it’s new every time it’s created,” he says, just like New Orleans jazz.
Once you’ve seen the Hall, you might want to hit Frenchmen Street, which is a safe walking distance from the French Quarter and features a collection of notable clubs, each with a specialty. “It’s a great destination,” Fensterstock says. You’ll find Snug Harbor, a premier spot known for contemporary jazz. “If you wanted to see a big name or a touring act, you’d go to Snug Harbor,” she says. Similar nearby clubs include the Spotted Cat and the Blue Nile, but one of Fensterstock’s current favorites is d.b.a. “They will book local rock bands and brass bands, including the Tremé Brass Band,” she says. Rock fans also might enjoy One-Eyed Jack’s, a former movie theater with “no bad seats” for music lovers.
For those willing to hop in cabs, the intersection of St. Claude and Elysian Fields Avenues also offers a handful of music hot spots, including the Hi-Ho Lounge. The Hi-Ho hosts a local brass band weekly, which Fensterstock says is fun to see. “When a New Orleans brass band is on tour, they’re much more buttoned-up” than they are at home, where they play in pajamas and bring hip-hop into their performance, she says. Visitors looking to live like locals for the night should check out Vaughn’s, a neighborhood bar in the Bywater where jazz performer Kermit Ruffins plays weekly, or the Candelight Lounge in the Tremé neighborhood, where local brass bands play and your liquor comes in a tiny half-pint bottle. “It’s a great little New Orleans experience,” Fensterstock says.
532 Frenchmen St., New Orleans
925 N. Robertson St., New Orleans
Davenport Lounge in the Ritz-Carlton
921 Canal St., New Orleans
618 Frenchmen St., New Orleans
2239 St. Claude Ave., New Orleans
615 Toulouse St., New Orleans
726 St. Peter, New Orleans
626 Frenchmen St., New Orleans
Spotted Cat Music Club
623 Frenchmen St., New Orleans
800 Lesseps St., New Orleans